For the longest time, it was compulsory for people to have at least one set of encyclopedias in their homes, and if you happen to have one of these old sets of collectible Collier Encyclopedias, you might wonder if they have any value. After all, Collier's Encyclopedia has been a household name since the company first published the set in 1950. While other mid-century collectibles come to mind first for most people, these encyclopedias are definitely beloved by the collectors who find them. Once you know more, you can help add to these collectors' expansive stores or start your own using your family's set as your very first addition.
History of Collier's Encyclopedia
Collier's Encyclopedia was first published by Crowell, Collier, and Macmillan in 1950. Originally, it was designed to include 20 volumes and considered one of the top three major English language encyclopedias in the world. According to Kenneth Kister's comparative work on encyclopedias, the publishers described it as, "a scholarly, systematic, continuously revised summary of the knowledge that is most significant to mankind." The encyclopedias handled practical subjects, like science, geography and biography, very well. However, the collection tended to stay away from subject matter that would be considered controversial, making it one of the more conservative publications seeking to document all sorts of knowledge.
The 24-Volume Version Emerges
In 1962, Collier's Encyclopedia underwent an overhaul and was expanded to include 24 volumes. During the mid-century, there was a cultural interest in cultivating knowledge that prompted a boom in newfound discovers across all fields. Coupled with this rapidly changing knowledge was a shift towards viewing patriotism through the lens of your domestic sphere. This meant that, in order to feel like they were doing their utmost to keep a true American home, families felt compelled to purchase up-to-date encyclopedias presumably for their family members to use, though most likely to display for their neighbors to see.
Door-to-Door Sales Impact the Market
Immortalized by famed playwright Arthur Miller, in his 1949 work Death of a Salesman, these encyclopedias (as so many other goods) were sold door to door by traveling salesmen. Door-to-door sales of these encyclopedias was a common practice until the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered Colliers to stop what the FTC called unfair and deceptive trade practices. The complaints against the publisher went as far back as 1960. Following this, the encyclopedia craze began to die down, and soon the omnipresent possibilities of home internet encroached into the encyclopedia market, with the last edition of Collier's being printed in 1997.
Collectible Collier's Encyclopedia Values
Old encyclopedias, from any publisher, tend to be just that - old. The actual content is out of date and thanks to the massive production numbers during the mid-century, there really isn't a contemporary market for them. You can stop at almost any thrift shop or used bookstore and find sets of outdated encyclopedias gathering dust among VHS tapes and copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Collectors generally aren't interested in encyclopedias published after the 1880s, either. As an investment or a vintage item, a Collier Encyclopedia set isn't very collectible. However, these sets are generally easy to find, though they aren't always cheap.
For example, most complete sets are evaluated by their sellers to be worth between $150-$200. This complete set from 1965 recently sold for $100 and this complete set from 1952 sold for just shy of that $100 mark. Now, this breaks down to anywhere between $7-$10 per volume in the series. So, if you're interested in collecting these encyclopedia sets in a cost-effective way, a long-term way to build an entire collection is to buy individual volumes over the course of several months or years.
What to Do With Old Encyclopedias
Of course, just because there isn't necessary a large collector's market for vintage encyclopedias doesn't mean that they can't serve some purpose in your life. For instance, encyclopedia entries are an excellent look into the beliefs and known 'truths' from the past. They're generally easy to read with good illustrations and especially well-suited for children. If you have children, the books can be a great tool to teach research skills and have a laugh at the sillier entries.
If you don't like your copies taking up space in your house, you can always donate them. Many prisons don't allow online access to prisoners, and homeless shelters often will be able to use them, outdated or not; some knowledge never goes out of style. Beyond that you can use them in various decorating capacities and in other projects around the house:
- Make a bookshelf
- Use them to raise the height of a lamp or other object
- Keep them on display in your shelves
- Make an altered book purse from one of them
- Use the pages as a pulp base for homemade paper
- Use the pages for decoupage or other art projects
- Drill a hole through a stack and feed a lamp through it
Where to Find Vintage Encyclopedias
If you're looking for a set of old encyclopedias, there are several ways that you can acquire a complete one. Locally, the following places are a good starting point since they often have complete or partial sets of encyclopedias:
- Thrift shops
- Garage sales
- Library used book sales
- Used bookstores
- Neighbors, relatives, and friends
Online, there are also many websites that you might browse:
- eBay- Most people's first-stop for buying and selling collectibles online, eBay has a constantly changing inventory and user-friendly interface that makes it a perfect place to buy and sell Collier's Encyclopedias.
- Etsy- Well-known for being a vintage retailer, among many other things, Etsy not only has copies from various years of Collier's Encyclopedia, but you can also sell your own copies on the site as well. Granted, selling on Etsy is a little more involved than selling on eBay, but for some it might be the perfect place to part with your parent's encyclopedia set.
- Goodwill- You can always visit a brick-and-mortar Goodwill first, but Goodwill posts a lot of interesting finds online that you can bid for and purchase. Now, this website's inventory is entirely dependent on what people have donated at that time, so you should check periodically to see if there's any new listings.
Go Back in Time Using Vintage Encyclopedias
Having a set of collectible Collier Encyclopedias in your home is a good way to encourage learning and understanding the natural ebb and flow that comes with discovering new facts and disproving old ones. You can pull one out on a rainy day, open it to a random page, start reading and get a sense of what the world was like just a few decades ago. While these old books really have no serious collectible value, the amount of information that they hold is invaluable to those that enjoy reading their worn pages.